DAYTONA BEACH — Many of the graduating students turned their backs on Education Secretary Betsy DeVos and boos nearly drowned out her commencement speech Wednesday at Bethune-Cookman University.
DeVos carried on with her keynote address to the historically black university, praising its founder, Mary McLeod Bethune, as someone who "refused to accept systemic and repulsive racism," and had "the courage to change old ideas."
"Let's choose to hear one another out," DeVos said, reading her prepared text in a measured tone despite continuing waves of boos, catcalls and scattered applause.
"I am here to demonstrate in the most direct way possible that I and the administration are fully committed to your success and to the success of every student across this great country," she said.
As the crowd kept trying to shout her down, university president Edison Jackson took over the microphone to lecture the students before she continued.
"If this behavior continues, your degrees will be mailed to you. Choose which way you want to go," Jackson warned.
DeVos, a Republican fundraiser without classroom experience, offended many African-Americans in February when she said historically black colleges are the "real pioneers when it comes to school choice." After a storm of criticism, she acknowledged that these colleges were "born, not out of mere choice, but out of necessity, in the face of racism."